Genital coinfections increase an individual’s risk of becoming infected with HIV-1 by sexual contact. Several mechanisms have been proposed to explain this, such as the presence of ulceration and bleeding caused by the coinfecting pathogen. Here we demonstrate that Langerhans cells (LCs) are involved in the increased susceptibility to HIV-1 in the presence of genital coinfections. Although LCs are a target for HIV-1 infection in genital tissues, we found that immature LCs did not efficiently mediate HIV-1 transmission in an ex vivo human skin explant model. However, the inflammatory stimuli TNF-α and Pam3CysSerLys4 (Pam3CSK4), the ligand for the TLR1/TLR2 heterodimer, strongly increased HIV-1 transmission by LCs through distinct mechanisms. TNF-α enhanced transmission by increasing HIV-1 replication in LCs, whereas Pam3CSK4 acted by increasing LC capture of HIV-1 and subsequent trans-infection of T cells. Genital infections such as Candida albicans and Neisseria gonorrhea not only triggered TLRs but also induced TNF-α production in vaginal and skin explants. Thus, during coinfection, LCs could be directly activated by pathogenic structures and indirectly activated by inflammatory factors, thereby increasing the risk of acquiring HIV-1. Our data demonstrate a decisive role for LCs in HIV-1 transmission during genital coinfections and suggest antiinflammatory therapies as potential strategies to prevent HIV-1 transmission.
Marein A.W.P. de Jong, Lot de Witte, Menno J. Oudhoff, Sonja I. Gringhuis, Philippe Gallay, Teunis B.H. Geijtenbeek